In My Neighborhood: L.A.’s Little Tokyo/Arts District

Digging the Fancy French at Jist. (All photos Ashley Soley-Cerro.)
Digging the Fancy French at Jist. (All photos Ashley Soley-Cerro.)

By Ashley Soley-Cerro

People who know Los Angeles know it’s a city of neighborhoods. Forget what you’ve heard; L.A. is not a city without an identity, and while it’s surrounded by (and occasionally surrounds) smaller and sometimes more famous cities, it’s not defined by those cities.

If you don’t think of L.A. in those terms, it’s time to get up to speed. Los Angeles’ ethnic enclaves and funky neighborhoods are stepping up and getting noticed. And L.A.’s love for immigrant culture, art and good food is perfectly exemplified in the intersecting communities of Little Tokyo and the Arts District.

Nearly 10 million people representing an array of ethnicities and religions live in L.A. County, and Little Tokyo is where you go to learn about the influence Japan and the Japanese have had on the local community – and vice versa.

Although Little Tokyo has become increasingly more gentrified, it’s still about 65 percent Asian, with the rest of the locals being mostly Caucasian hipsters.

The Arts District is a newer phenomenon that attracts painters, filmmakers, musicians, or anyone with an alternative vision. For the less creative among us, the fun comes in walking around streets covered in murals with open doors inviting the public to enter someone’s home/gallery to check out their latest creations.

Both areas are in the heart of downtown, not far from City Hall, and span just a few blocks. They’re easily missed if you’re quickly driving through, but if you park and walk around you’ll notice a spike in the number of Asian people, restaurants, historical centers, and art galleries.

Mass-transit types can take a train to Union Station, L.A.’s main railway hub, and bus the remaining way. For those willing to brave traffic, the 110 and 101 freeways are nearby.

I love this mashup of a neighborhood. Whether it’s theatre, museums, a hipster flea market or art galleries, I always discover something new. There’s too many options to fit everything in a single day, so the following is a guide to how I’d approach my Little Tokyo/ Arts District trip. But the best parts are what you discover on your own during a stroll, so take your time and look around.

Here are some of my favorite stops in one of my favorite neighborhoods:

Jist: Your a.m. pick-me-up

Jist has only been open a year, but the food has history. Many of the recipes at this Asian-American fusion restaurant have been in the family for decades. The dishes have an intense, punchy flavor that’ll have you wondering what went into making such a seemingly simple yet unique breakfast. My suggestion: Order the Fancy French with a side of the Chashu Potatoes. Instead of imagining boring old French toast, think of a brioche loaf soaked in crème brûlée batter, topped with a light lemon whipped cream and side of seasonal fruit. And rather than a side of potatoes, how about a bowl of pork belly that’s lightly fried with potatoes and peppers, and completely smothered in “the mother chashu marinade” – a deeply flavorful mystery sauce that has been preserved, reused and added to for… I’m not sure I want to know how long. Warning: You’ll have a hard time eating this entire meal, but it’s the perfect blend of sweet and savory.

Location: 116 Judge John Aiso St.

Tip: Parking in the lot across the street is $2 for two hours, but any longer and it gets pricey.

Mixing art and music (which is art, but anyway) at the Artform Studio.
Mixing art and music (which is art, but anyway) at the Artform Studio.

The Artform Studio: Time to find your swagger

Whether you’re looking for new tunes, a new look or just a glimpse into L.A.’s hip-hop culture, the Artform welcomes everyone.

While a lot of other L.A. record stores focus on rock-‘n’-roll, the Artform provides box after box of old and contemporary soul, hip-hop, funk and jazz vinyls for a fair price.

Someone is always playing good classic tunes, and they usually don’t mind spinning a record of your choice before you commit to purchasing it.

In addition to music (and sometimes a live DJ set), the Artform offers haircuts and hand-made jewelry.

Location: 701 E 3rd St #120. If you want to walk off that heavy Jist meal and are capable of locomotion at that point, the Artform is only half a mile away. The stroll will take you on the border of Little Tokyo and the Arts District, giving you a bird’s-eye view of your options.

Tip: As I mentioned earlier, leaving your car in that lot can be expensive. You may be better off reparking on the street, although sadly the ease of completing that task depends on the day and time you visit.

Angel City Brewery: Your one-stop-shop for drinking, eating and play

Angel City’s beer selection is good, but it’s the atmosphere and culture that’s going to steal your heart. The brewery has eight beers on tap, and a worthwhile $8 flight that comes with five 4.5-ounce beers of your choice.

Funky art and fancy beers at Angel City Brewery.
Funky art and fancy beers at Angel City Brewery.

Unlike most L.A. bars, this place is spacious and actually entices you to overstay your welcome by providing free board games and random art to view. Angel City also lets you bring in outside food, and arranges for a different food truck every night.

And if food wasn’t enough to spike your interest, check out the neverending calendar of events.

Whether you want to watch a comedy show, play trivia games, take a “class” on how to dissect your beer, watch movies, or even go on a two-mile group run then take a yoga class inside the brewery before washing away the sweat with a glass of beer, Angel City seems to have thought of everything.

Location: 216 South Alameda St.

Tip: Angel City actually has a tiny parking lot, but I wouldn’t bet on it having any spots. Just throw more change in a street meter. It’s a stone’s throw away from The Artform Studio.  

Ashley Soley-Cerro is a digital-media producer with KTLA in Los Angeles.